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September 16 will mark forty years when thirty-two women from across Canada were sworn in as the first women to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The swearing-in ceremonies were the first step in a long journey toward their acceptance as police officers. While they were considered equal on paper, the women had to work hard to prove themselves as police officers.

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The challenges they faced began early in their careers. During their training at the RCMP’s academy in Regina, Saskatchewan, the women came under criticism. Some people questioned whether female Mounties would be putting the lives of male police officers in danger because they lacked the brawn and physical stature they thought was necessary to handle violent situations. Mountie wives were resistant to the idea of attractive young women riding alone with their husbands in a police cruiser. Rumours spread throughout the RCMP that the women looked more like football players after all of the physical exercise they underwent during training. And the women were devastated to learn that they would not be wearing the same uniform as male Mounties, a decision that set them apart as different from the men from the outset.

Many Canadians struggled with women’s changing role in society. They assumed that women working in a male-dominated occupation wanted to be like men. Few people realized that the first female Mounties had no intention of being like their male peers. They joined the RCMP for a number of reasons. Some wanted a new and challenging career. Others wanted job security and better pay. Many were eager to join an organization steeped in the history of the nation. Five of the first women were carrying on the family tradition established by brothers and fathers who were also police officers. Still others had altruistic reasons for joining, fulfilling a strong desire to help people. Not many people understood that the first female Mounties wanted to define themselves as police officers on their own terms.

Despite the opposition, the first women to join the RCMP proved the naysayers wrong. The late Superintendent W.F. MacRae, in charge of recruit training at the academy in 1975, said it best: “There is absolutely no reason why women cannot do police work. People say you couldn’t send them here and there. What they are talking about is muscle and muscle is only a small part of the job. No one ever questioned the courage of the female.”[1]

Forty years later, he proved to be right. Congratulations to the women of the RCMP.

[1] Quoted in Colleen Slater-Smith, “Troop 17 Graduates,” The Leader-Post (Regina), March 3, 1975.